Tom Brady was Super Bowl LV’s Most Valuable Player. Todd Bowles was its Most Valuable Coach.
Defensive coordinator of the victorious Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bowles did what others have not, would not and could not – which is to silence Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. With Sunday’s 31-9 hammering of the defending Super Bowl champions, Bowles scored more than an upset.
He scored a knockout.
It was the first time in Mahomes’ career he was held to single digits. It was the first time he suffered a double-digit loss, too. It ended his 12-game winning streak at road or neutral sites, with Mahomes not losing outside Arrowhead Stadium since November, 2019. And it was only the second time he’d been defeated in his past 27 starts.
So what happened? The Todd Father, that’s what.
Bowles devised a defensive scheme that attacked the edges, taking advantage of the Chiefs’ two missing tackles, and took away the deep pass (i.e., Tyeek Hill) that sabotaged Tampa Bay early in its 27-24 loss to Kansas City in late November. That was the Bucs’ last loss, and it’s significant for this reason: After the Chiefs jumped to a 20-7 halftime lead, Bowles tightened his game plan to limit Mahomes and Co. to a solitary second-half touchdown.
Now, combine that second half with Sunday’s result, and you have the Bucs holding Kansas City to 16 points the last six quarters they played. Only once did the Chiefs score fewer than 22 all season (including the playoffs), and that was a 17-14 defeat of Atlanta.
Yet they put up 16 in a game-and-a-half vs. Bowles’ Bucs, coming out on the wrong end of a 49-16 result. Better yet, in the contest that mattered more, the Bucs intercepted Mahomes twice, sacked him three times and kept him and his teammates out of the end zone.
“Give Todd credit for the job they did on us,” said losing coach Andy Reid. “He got us.”
But that wasn’t Bowles’ greatest accomplishment. This was: He and the Bucs beat three Super Bowl MVPs in succession to get this far. Introducing quarterbacks Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Mahomes, who in three playoff contests produced four touchdowns, six interceptions and no wins.
All were favored.
“Coach Bowles?” said linebacker Lavonte David. “We call him the Mastermind. We were playing great defense throughout the playoffs, and (people) still doubted us.”
How appropriate, then, that Kansas City’s final drive Sunday ended with a Devin White interception. It dropped an exclamation point on a Tampa Bay's second-ever Super Bowl win much as defense punctuated the Bucs’ first. That was a Super Bowl XXXVII defeat of the 2002 Oakland Raiders when the Bucs produced five interceptions, returning three for touchdowns, and Tampa Bay safety Dexter Jackson was named the game’s MVP.
That wasn’t supposed to happen. The Raiders were favored by four. This wasn’t supposed to happen, either. The Chiefs were favored by three. But a smart man once said that great offenses sell tickets and great defenses win championships.
I don’t know if these Tampa Bay Bucs are a great defense. But they were the past three games.
Todd Bowles, take a bow.
SUPER SUNDAY SCHOOL: FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. It’s OK to like Tom Brady. In fact, it’s downright admirable to respect him, too. For years, Brady haters told us he was washed up, couldn’t throw the deep ball, got all the calls and was better suited for a retirement home than a football team. One problem: They were wrong … but couldn’t admit it. Well, that’s OK because now they can. He doesn’t play for the hated Patriots anymore, and he’s not allied with Bill Belichick. He’s moved on. So haters can, too … and maybe they have. There was a story last week that Patrick Mahomes’ jersey wasn’t Fanatics’ top-selling jersey from Aug. 1 to Nov. 1. Brady’s No. 12 Bucs’ jersey was. And maybe now you understand why. Because at the age of 43, he did the unthinkable and the unimaginable. He picked up his fifth Super Bowl MVP and seventh Lombardi Trophy. Now consider what that means: Brady has more Super Bowl MVPs than any quarterback in history has Super Bowl wins (outside of himself, of course) and more Lombardi Trophies than all 32 NFL teams. New England and Pittsburgh are second with six each. “It’s hands-down one of the greatest accomplishments in sports history,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski. No argument here.
2. Bowles will be a hot head-coaching hire in 2022. Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was supposed to be the most overlooked candidate this year, but what about Bowles? He just trumped Bieniemy and Reid (the guy who promoted him to his first coordinator position in 2012) in the biggest game of the season. Yeah, I know, he was 24-40 in his only tenure as an NFL head coach, but there’s a catch: It was with the New York Jets. And this just in: He was 10-6 his first year there (2015), the last time the Jets had a winning season. There was a report Sunday that claimed Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians has a succession plan in place, with Bowles his replacement when Arians decides to retire. Maybe. But Arians isn’t going anywhere, telling CBS analyst Bill Cowher he’s coming back next season. Nevertheless, when he does go Bowles would make a suitable successor.
3. Old Guys Still Rule. I know, you heard it here before. But it’s worth repeating. Tampa Bay just won its last eight games, including four in the playoffs, with a 68-year-old head coach (Arians), a 43-year-old quarterback (Brady) and an 82-year-old offensive consultant (Tom Moore). Better yet, all insist they have no interest in retiring. And why should they? They just lapped the field.
4. Let’s pump the brakes on that talk about a Chiefs’ Dynasty. Fact: Super Bowl champs don’t repeat these days unless they have Tom Brady as their quarterback. We learned that in 2014 when Russell Wilson, quarterback of the then-defending Super Bowl-champion Seattle Seahawks, was this close to repeating … but lost. Like Mahomes, Wilson was in his third year as a starter. Like Mahomes, he was extraordinarily successful, winning 36 of his first 48 regular-season starts. But he's never been back to a Super Bowl. Patrick Mahomes was supposed to buck the trend, but he looked more like Russell Wilson all over again … except, unlike Wilson, he was buried in his return engagement. Brady won the 2003-04 Super Bowls with New England, the only time there’s been a Super Bowl repeat since the 1998 Denver Broncos. There’s a lesson there we all should heed: No Brady, no repeat.
5. Maybe clothes do make the difference. The Bucs were the home team but decided to wear their white road jerseys. Reason: Luck. They had plenty of it with those uniforms, going 4-0 at home (including Sunday) with them and 10-2 overall. Brady now is 5-1 in Super Bowls when wearing a white jersey. You gotta believe.
THIRD AND LONG
1. A lot of complaining about the officiating, and after watching the NFC championship game I understand. Those officials swallowed their whistles. These officials did not. In fact, the 95 yards in first-half penalties vs. Kansas City were the most by one team in Super Bowl history, infuriating Chiefs’ fans – including one in particular. “If you have to have a ref on your team, is that really winning?” tweeted Randi Mahomes, mother of one notable Chiefs’ star. But a rebuttal by Hall-of-Fame voter Tony Dungy reminded her – and Chiefs’ die-hards -- that “when you punch guys in the face after plays, line up offside, get beat deep and flail at receivers, penalties are going to get called.” Zing. Nailed it.
2. As long as we’re on the subject, say this about Super Bowl referee Carl Cheffers: The guy’s consistent. He handled two Kansas City games prior to Sunday, and the Chiefs drew 10 penalties in each. They had 11 for 120 yards in Super Bowl LV. Both were season highs for Kansas City.
3. Brady is consistent, too. He had 40 TDs and 12 interceptions during the regular season and 10 TDs and three interceptions in four playoff games. Figure out the correlation and come back to me with the answer.
4. Can’t wait to hear that “Mic’d Up” exchange between Brady and Tyrann Mathieu at the end of the first half.
5. Tom Brady is 4-0 vs. Andy Reid in the playoffs, including 2-0 in Super Bowls. Just sayin.’
6. Apparently, there is a home-field advantage in Super Bowls. No team playing in its home stadium has lost.
7. The only question left for Bowles and the Bucs' defense: How did they fail to stop that streaker who ran on to the field in the fourth quarter from getting to the end zone?.
8. Patrick Mahomes is 0-2 vs. Brady in the playoffs. He’s 6-0 vs. everyone else.
9. Guess this means there’s still no State Farm Patrick Price.
10. Not sure which was worse: The Chiefs or the commercials.
11. While everyone else is busy looking for the next young head coach, keep this in mind: Andy Reid is 62; Bruce Arians is 68.
12. When I heard those CBS plugs for “The Equalizer,” I was waiting for an interview with the Bucs’ Todd Bowles.
13. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Kansas City’s makeshift offensive line surrendered 29 pressures. Surprising? You bet. Bowles’ reputation is as a blitz-happy coordinator, but he blitzed on only six plays all evening.
14. Las Vegas already has Kansas City as the AFC favorite to reach Super Bowl LVI, but I'm not buying. Reason: The Super Bowl curse. Three of the past five Super Bowl losers failed to make the playoffs the following season. Worse, all but one Super Bowl loser since the 1993 Buffalo Bills failed to reach the game the next year. That team? The 2018 Patriots with ... who else? ... Tom Brady..
15. Still waiting for that Scotty Miller-Tyreek Hill race. Miller was all but invisible Sunday, with no catches and no targets.
16. Mahomes has twice as many interceptions (4) in two Super Bowls as he does TDs (2). What makes that so intriguing is that he has 15 TDs and no interceptions in all other playoff games (6).
17. Hard to believe but … Jason Pierre-Paul is 8-0 in the playoffs. He was 4-0 with the 2011 New York Giants and 4-0 this year.
18. Kansas City MVP: Left tackle Eric Fisher. Because now we know how much he means to Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense.
19. I can’t help but think that commissioner Roger Goodell inadvertently deserves some credit – if that’s what you want to call it – for Brady’s historic accomplishments. By dragging the quarterback through a spurious “Deflategate” investigation, he so infuriated Brady (cue the “Foot Locker” ad) that he pushed him to prove he was bigger and better than anyone and anything. Result: Since Brady was suspended the first four games of 2016, he’s been to four of the past five Super Bowls – winning three. Game. Set. Match. Brady.
20. How perfect that when safety John Lynch was elected to Canton after eight tries as a finalist, it happened when the Super Bowl was in Tampa – where Lynch spent the first 11 years of his career. Lynch was a star on the Bucs’ first Super Bowl team (2002) and was at Super Bowl LV for their second.
STAT THAT MAY ONLY INTEREST ME
Brady is the first quarterback in NFL history with 50 touchdown passes (including the playoffs) for a Super Bowl champion.
STAT THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
Since turning 34, Brady played in as many Super Bowls (6) as anyone in their entire careers (Mike Lodish with 6).
AND ONE FOR BOTH OF US
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Patrick Mahomes was pressured more (29 times) than any quarterback in Super Bowl history, surpassing the record of 25 set by Jim Kelly in Super Bowl XXVI. Brady, on the other hand, faced the fewest pressures (4) of any Super Bowl in his career.
FIVE BIGGEST WINNERS
1. Tom Brady. What more can you say? Well, plenty, actually. He beat the defending Super Bowl champs. He got his revenge on defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo (see Super Bowl XLII). He won his seventh Lombardi Trophy. He won his fifth Super Bowl MVP. And his 125.8 passer rating was his highest ever in a Super Bowl. Oh, yeah. He’s also 43.
2. Tampa Bay gamblers. One guy put $3.45 million on the Bucs at +3-1/2; another $2.5 million. Yet still another placed a $1-million money-line wager on the Bucs. In a risk-reward business, that’s called a bonanza.
3. Tampa Bay CB Carlton Davis. He was the guy who suffered first-degree burns in the first Tampa Bay-Kansas City game in late November. Davis tried to single-cover Tyreek Hill and failed (miserably), with Hill catching 203 yards in passes and scoring twice … in the first quarter. So what happened Sunday? In 54 coverage snaps, he surrendered two catches for 14 yards.
4. Tampa Bay GM Jason Licht. With assistant GM Tom Brady’s help, he recruited outsiders to stock a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2007. And look what happened. The Bucs’ four touchdowns Sunday were scored by Gronk (2), Antonio Brown (1) and Leonard Fournette (1), all of whom joined the Bucs this season. And the three TD passes? Yep, thrown by a quarterback who joined the team this season, too. You might’ve heard of him.
5. Former WR Drew Pearson. He waited 33 years to reach Canton and didn’t make a peep. Then, when he did finally cross the finish line, what did he say? “I’ve always wanted this for a long time. I promise I’ll live up to what the Hall of Fame is all about. And now you’re giving me a chance at immortality … the legacy of that is amazing.”
FIVE BIGGEST LOSERS
1. Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. They took a beating from comedian Steve Harvey on Saturday’s “NFL Honors” Show, then absorbed another blow a day later when ex-Patriots Brady and Rob Gronkowski combined for two TD passes en route to another Super Bowl victory. Was Belichick watching? I have no idea. What I do know is that Brady this season was 15-5, with Tampa reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Belichick was 7-9, with the Patriots missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 -- or the last time he didn't have Brady (season-ending injury). Draw your own conclusions.
2. Disney World. There will be no Super Bowl MVP parade through the Magic Kingdom. Not this year. Which means No Mickey. No Donald. And no Tom Brady.
3. The Bucs’ cannoneers. They had Sunday off, thanks to NFL protocol. Something about too much of a home-field advantage. So they stopped firing. Brady, however, did not. That was too much of a home-field disadvantage for Kansas City, which hadn’t lost away from home in its last 12 starts, including the playoffs.
4. Teams that passed on Brady last spring. No explanation needed. He won. You didn't. The dumb deserve to suffer.
5. Chiefs’ discipline. The Chiefs had to overcome two obstacles Sunday: Tampa Bay and themselves. In the end, the combination proved too much. You know about the Bucs and Tom Brady. But they were aided and abetted by a Chiefs’ defense that committed a rash of senseless penalties and surrendered a fatal touchdown at the end of the first half. “Penalties affect the game 1,000 percent,” said Chiefs’ defensive lineman Chris Jones. “What can I say? We had a lot of penalties called on us today.” There were 13 playoff games this season, and the Chiefs were the only team assessed double-digit penalties (11) and more than 100 yards in walk-offs (120).
GOLD JACKET QUOTES
“That’s what it was all about: To come to Tampa Bay and win a championship.” – Tampa Bay TE Rob Gronkowski.
“Obviously, I didn’t play like I wanted to play.” – Kansas City QB Patrick Mahomes.
“This really belongs to our coaches and players. I didn’t do a damn thing.” – Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians on winning the Lombardi Trophy.
"It was one of those days where it just felt like anything you did they had an answer for." -- Kansas City TE Travis Kelce.
“We’re coming back.” – Tampa Bay QB Tom Brady.
“We’re gravediggers, and we dug graves tonight.” – Tampa Bay cornerback Carlton Davis.
“He called me something I won't repeat.” Kansas City S Tyrann Mathieu on what Brady said to him.
"We came out and proved the world wrong," -- Tampa Bay LB Lavonte David.
GOLD JACKET RECIPIENTS
TAMPA BAY QB TOM BRADY. Please see above.
TAMPA BAY DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR TODD BOWLES. Ditto.